The Magazine


Aug 11, 1997, Vol. 2, No. 47 • By JONAH GOLDBERG
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This explains some of YAF's cultural obscurity, and a shortcoming of Andrew's book. YAF -- unlike SDS, SNCC, the Black Panthers, and the rest -- was an organization largely directed by its elders. In a sense, YAF really did have founding fathers. William E Buckley Jr., William Rusher, M. Stanton Evans, Frank Meyer, and PR guru Marvin Liebman gave birth to the group and nurtured it. The achievements of YAF's student leaders -- then and now -- should not be diminished, but the story of YAF largely concerns Buckley and the National Review conservatives. The Sharon conference was held at Buckley's estate, and the Sharon Statement was drafted at the direction of Evans and Meyer, which probably explains why it was so well written and concise (the Port Huron Statement runs about 50 pages, Sharon under 370 words) .

Generational conflicts are by definition negligible in a movement dedicated above all to the "eternal truths." That is why a discussion of YAF is impossible without an examination of National Review, the purging from respectable conservatism of the John Birch Society, the Faustian embrace of the traditionalists and the Randians, and the pitched battle of the Goldwaterites and the Nixonites. Andrew endeavors to include all of these elements, but he is stuck with YAF as the dog, instead of the tail.

The greater disservice of the book is that Andrew takes what is an exciting story about the power of ideas and the people who champion them and turns it into an exceedingly dull one about internal memo-writing. Andrew's meticulous research unnecessarily bleeds the drama and personality out of this story of conservative visionaries. But, thankfully, he is only one of a new cadre of academics investigating the conservative movement's long march to victory in the battle of ideas.

Head yippie Abbie Hoffman once observed that the first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it. While left-wing protest politics were wreaking havoc on institutions and individuals, a band of committed young conservative men and women were "getting away with" their own revolution -- by dedicating themselves to the painstaking restoration of some very old ideas and applying them to a society in flux. Thirty years later, after ruining much and building little, leftist radicals have few accomplishments to look back on with pride. Meanwhile, with their ideas capturing the field at home and abroad, their right-wing counterparts have reason to relax a bit, in acknowledgment of victory achieved.

By Jonah Goldberg; Jonah Goldberg is producer of the national PBS series Think Tank "Young Americans for Freedom" in the Sixties